Show History



The Emperor's New Clothes was the first musical collaboration between composer, Stephen Flaherty, and bookwriter and lyricist, Lynn Ahrens.  It is a take on the famous Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name.  Andersen based the story on a cautionary tale from a medieval Spanish collection.  Like many adaptations of Andersen's stories, Ahrens and Flaherty wrote their ending to be much lighter than the source material.  Rather than simply having the Emperor process through the town completely naked, they created the character of Arno to serve as the voice of reason, writing a happy ending with the evil Swindler being apprehended and Emperor Marcus proclaiming that everyone should be exactly who they are and not worry about what others think.  They also choose to make the Emperor character more sympathetic by making him a teenaged boy who is overwhelmed by his royal responsibilities.

Work on The Emperor's New Clothes only started out of near-desperation.  Ahrens and Flaherty had failed to get the rights for a musical version of the film, Bedazzled, so they attempted to write a completely original musical called Antler.  After working with Ira Weitzman from Playwrights Horizons and playwright, George C. Wolf,e for about eight months, they were unable to find a concrete story and abandoned the project.  They decided that they wanted to adapt a story out of the public domain so that they wouldn't have to worry about rights and they found the classic Andersen tale.


The Emperor's New Clothes was first produced back in 1985 for the children's theatre company, Theatreworks.  Since then, the musical has been produced at several high-profile regional theatres, including South Coast Repertory, the Belfry Theatre and the Coterie Theatre. With the latter venue, it ran in a double-billing with The Lorax, Ahrens and Flaherty's  musicalized take on the Dr. Seuss story that was cut from their other musical, Seussical.

Cultural Influence

  • The Emperor's New Clothes was the very first full collaboration between Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.  The duo would go on to create a wide array of award-winning musicals, including Lucky Stiff, Seussical, Ragtime and Once on This Island.
  • The Emperor's New Clothes was part of the inaugural "Theatre for Young Audiences and Their Families" series at South Coast Repertory Theatre.